Historic NC church restoring its early stained glass windows

ABBEVILLE, S.C. (AP) – Efforts are in progress to fund renovations to Abbeville’s historic Trinity Episcopal Church.

Ann Hutchinson Waigand of Herndon, Virginia, whose mother, May Hutchinson, is the church’s long-time historian, said the church and its cemetery are on the National Register of Historic Places, but the church also is significant for its stained glass.

The parish was organized in 1842, but the current structure was built in 1859 and consecrated in 1860.

“It’s very unusual for a church to have original mid-19th century stained glass,” Waigand said. “There’s only one window that’s been replaced in Trinity, one that was given in 1941. The stained glass in this church is like a library of 19th-century American stained glass.”

Some of the windows, Waigand said, may even actually be from the earliest Trinity Episcopal church in Abbeville, dating to 1843, on the site of the present building.

However, Waigand said there’s also a very good chance that the church’s chancel window and one other window at the front of the church, with a banner saying, “Suffer Little Children To Come Unto Me,” likely are the work of William Gibson. Gibson began the earliest known glass business in America in the 1830s in New York City.

Additionally, Waigand said it is believed medallions with Christian symbols at the top of each window were made by the same artist.

“William Gibson is regarded as the ‘father of stained glass painting in America,’” Waigand said. “The fact that Trinity may very well have two of his windows is extraordinarily significant because there are few remaining examples of William Gibson’s windows in this country.” Gibson was the eldest of three brothers, the younger of whom located to Philadelphia and designed stained glass in the United States Capitol, Waigand said.

Waigand said she has found evidence of a letter from Gibson to George Walker, a Columbia architect who was chosen to design the 1859 building in the French Gothic Revival style.

The letter, at the South Caroliniana Library in Columbia, references an order in 1856 that Walker placed for stained glass, for a home in Charlotte, North Carolina, Waigand said, and the letter was written by Gibson.

“A Gibson scholar/biographer has confirmed to me that architects tended to patronize the same stained glass makers and denominations tended to patronize the same stained glass makers,” Waigand said. “One of the only other known pieces of William Gibson stained glass is in Trinity Episcopal Church in New Orleans.

“This Gibson scholar has confirmed to me findings are sufficient to attribute the chancel window and the other window at the front of the church to William Gibson, but, it’s not definitive unless we have an actual piece of paper.”

Trinity Episcopal of Abbeville’s church history states the large chancel window was a gift from a “Greenville church” and was ordered from England to be placed at the time of consecration.

“Lore has it the window did not arrive in the church until 1863, after having run the blockade in Charleston Harbor,” Waigand said. “But, there are descriptions of the very window from accounts of the church’s consecration in 1860. I found a letter in an old church safe, written by then-rector Benjamin Johnson in 1862, to then-church treasurer Armistead Burt, saying to issue payment to a man for repairs to the chancel window, because it had been leaking.”

Waigand said she believes it’s the original chancel window and that it was not initially intended for a different church in the North.

“If you put all the dates together, it makes sense that this would be the original chancel window,” Waigand said. “It may be that someone who was a blockade runner gave money toward the church window and that’s how the legend started about it coming through the blockade.

“There are records of people who gave kneeling cushions for the church and for who gave the bell, but there are not records for all the stained glass windows,” Waigand said. “My great-grandfather owned a mercantile store in Abbeville and we know he and his business partner gave one of the windows and that it was there in 1860.

“If people know the significance of these windows, maybe more people will visit the church and those interested may donate toward church restoration,” Waigand added. “Restoration will likely cost several million dollars. Work done on the outside of the church will protect the stained glass. There’s going to be a phased master plan, the biggest parts of which will be work done on the steeple and removal of the Portland cement from the exterior.”

Donations may be mailed care of Friends of Trinity Abbeville, P.O. Box 911, Abbeville, SC 29620. Friends of Trinity Abbeville is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preservation and restoration of the church.


Information from: The Index-Journal, http://www.indexjournal.com

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